When J. Jayalalithaa began her third substantive term as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu last year, she was expected to undo some of the things that had gone wrong under the previous regime and take initiatives in areas that the Karunanidhi government had neglected. One year into her new term, those changes are more than evident. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government has strengthened the Public Distribution System by providing free rice, and raised rural income levels by providing free milch cows, goats and sheep to the poor immediately after assuming office. But change can lose its charm when it is done to fix things that ain't broke, when it is done simply for the purpose of reversing the previous government's schemes and projects. One such reversal was the overnight dismissal of 13,000 Makkal Nala Paniyalargal or people's welfare workers recruited by the DMK government. And then there was the move to drop the Uniform System of School Education just weeks before the academic year was to begin. Not that the USSE was without fault, but to slash the whole scheme in one sweeping stroke instead of trying to fix the defects in a structured manner showed a certain disregard for the interests of school-going children. The decision to not use the new Secretariat complex, and to move the Anna Centenary Library out of its well-furnished building also came through as politically coloured. Not surprisingly, time and energy which could have been spent more constructively went in fighting lost-cause legal battles over these rollback decisions.
To her credit, however, Ms Jayalalithaa also knew how to improve upon some of the DMK government's welfare measures. Although her government dropped the private insurer for the government's health scheme, the scheme itself got a makeover that made it a far improved version. Also, the government's drive against land-grabbing, initially seen as directed against DMK leaders, proved to be of great benefit to a large number of people who had lost their land to an organised mafia. The government has also been efficient in both short-term restoration and long-term rehabilitation after the death and destruction caused by cyclone Thane. Alongside some short-sighted steps motivated by political considerations, Ms Jayalalithaa unveiled a bold Vision Tamil Nadu 2023 document that aims to achieve 11 per cent economic growth and rid the State of hunger and poverty. For a party in power, good governance is the best way of conducting politics. The people of Tamil Nadu would like nothing better than for their Chief Minister to spend the next four years single-mindedly pursuing the goals set out in that document.